Saturday, June 7, 2014

Living Water

Sermon on John 7:37-39
For Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Elmwood Park, WI
June 8, 2014 (The Day of Pentecost)

Today’s Gospel lesson takes place on the day of Pentecost.  But at the same time, it takes place two years before the day we Christians normally think of as Pentecost.  You see, Pentecost was actually a festival on the ancient Israelite calendar.  The name means “fifty days,” and we of course think of it as fifty days after Easter.  To the Jews who gathered both in today’s Gospel and a couple of years later in today’s second reading, it meant fifty days after the Passover.  Pentecost was a festival that commemorated the giving of the Law by Moses on Mt. Sinai.

One of the ceremonies that took place in connection with the Israelite feast of Pentecost was that a pitcher of water would be taken from the pool of Siloam (which functioned as Jerusalem’s water supply and was also the pool that many people thought had healing properties when the water was stirred) and poured out as a drink offering in the temple, commemorating the water from the rock which God gave to quench the people’s thirst.  And that forms the background for what Jesus says in this Gospel lesson.

“If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.  Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’”  As John points out in v. 39, Jesus is prophesying about the giving of the Holy Spirit which would take place at this same festival in a couple of years.  He says that to receive the Holy Spirit and have the water which, if one drinks it, he will never be thirsty again, they needed to come to Him.

Now, many Christians are obsessed with the Holy Spirit.  We Lutherans are often accused of not emphasizing the Holy Spirit enough, because our worship services aren’t focused on our emotions or on spectacular signs and wonders, but on the reading and preaching of God’s Word and receiving Jesus’ body and blood in the Sacrament.  But that’s actually the way the Holy Spirit wants it to be.  His job is to testify about Jesus.  It is precisely by coming to Jesus, listening to Him and partaking of the living water of His blood, in which we are washed in Holy Baptism and which we drink in Holy Communion, that we receive the living water of the Holy Spirit to sustain us in the faith.  The Holy Spirit’s job is to testify about Christ, not about Himself.  He’s kind of like John the Baptizer in that way.  It wasn’t the tongues of flame or the speaking in many languages that brought 3,000 to the living waters of Holy Baptism, it was the clear  and plainly-spoken sermon by St. Peter regarding the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Today we celebrate a ceremony known in our churches as “Confirmation.”  While it’s not instituted by God (which means it doesn’t fit the definition of the word “Sacrament,” right guys?), it is historically very closely connected with Holy Baptism.  The same rejection of the devil, all his works, and all his ways, and the same affirmation of faith in the Apostles’ Creed which takes place in Baptism, also takes place here.  And the faith that is confessed here does give the forgiveness of sins, not because confessing the faith is a good work of any kind, but simply because, like our liturgy and hymn and sermons and bible studies and Christian conversations, the faith that is confessed here is simply the same faith that saves us, namely faith in the fact that the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, true God, also became true Man, born of the Virgin Mary, died in our place, rose for our justification, sits at the right hand of God the Father, and will come again to judge both the living and the dead.  That’s the faith into which we were baptized, that’s the faith which we confess not only on Confirmation day but all of our lives.  That’s where the Holy Spirit works: where the Word is, which tells us these simple truths that you are saved simply because Christ died, rose, and ascended for you.

And that should be a comfort to us.  Yes, there are times when our emotions of love and gratitude for the salvation accomplished for us by our Lord on the cross are so overwhelming that we could just burst, and, if it weren’t for the fact that our fellow Lutherans would probably give us weird looks, we would even be tempted to jump up and shout “Alleluia!  Amen!”  For those of you who were here last week when we celebrated the Ascension of our Lord, the final verse of “A Hymn of Glory Let Us Sing” was such a moment.  I would challenge any small Missouri Synod congregation out there to sing like we do at Holy Cross.  But those emotions aren’t always there.  But there are also times when the Word that is preached doesn’t seem to have an impact on us at all.  But it is the Word itself, not our reaction to it, that is the vehicle for the Holy Spirit to come to us.  Even when our emotions are full of darkness and despair, when we are in the middle of some crisis in our lives or patiently awaiting relief from some ongoing suffering or grief, the living water is still planted within us by the Word.  We may not see the spring that comes forth from our heart to sustain and nourish our growth in the faith, but it is there.  And it will continue watering the soil of our hearts even when all we see inside ourselves are rocks, a hard path, or thorns and thistles.  The Holy Spirit dwelling within us doesn’t always make His presence obvious.  Sometimes it’s downright hidden under the sorrows and troubles of life in this old, sin-infested world.  But the living water is still there.  The promise of resurrection and ascension with our Lord to dwell with Him eternally at the Father’s right hand is still there.  Our baptism into the Holy Trinity, our eating and drinking of Jesus’ body and blood, is still there.  The spring of living water is still there, and it will continue to sustain and nourish us, no matter what may come our way, until we reach the eternal feast in the new Jerusalem, where the tree of life and the river of life, God Himself, will sustain us until eternity.  Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +

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